2006 Building Community Award

Each year through the Building Community through Rural Education Award, CREC and PARSS recognize a rural school or district that has distinguished itself through innovative practices contributing to the educational experiences for the students served, while collaborating with the broader community for the benefit of all. On Friday, April 28, 2006 the Rural Center, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS), awarded its second annual Building Community through Rural Education award at the PARSS Annual Meeting in State College. This year the award went to the Wayne Highlands School District for their Together for Health initiative. Titusville Area Schools received the Second place award for numerous community building efforts channeled through their Early Childhood Learning Center. The Third place award went to Cambria Heights School District in recognition of their Highlander Foundation, an organization developed to assist district students in pursuing their Post Secondary education.

For more information on these award winning programs, continue below.

Wayne Highlands School District

Together For Health

group with the award plaqueWayne Highlands School District, recipient of the 2006 Building Community through Rural Education award, has focused on collaboration and innovation to develop a comprehensive student wellness program throughout its schools. In addition to offering personalized health assessments to students, the district is involved in providing in-home education for new parents, an anti-tobacco program, a dental health clinic and education program, gym space for a community winter walking program, fitness centers for the community, and many other community based programs.

 

THE BEGINNINGS

 

After the awards ceremony, we took the opportunity to sit down with Wayne Highlands´ superintendent Paul Edwards to learn more about the development and effects of his district´s Together for Health initiative. The program began, he explained, as a more modest partnership in 1995 between Wayne Memorial Hospital, three school districts including Wayne Highlands, and a number of other partners to offer "education and opportunities" for students to "take responsibility for their lives and their lifestyles." Through this partnership the district assisted in compiling what Superintendent Edwards describes as a remarkably comprehensive youth health data set for the district That partnership, however, was only the beginning of the district´s efforts. "Together for Health," Edwards explained, "started the ripple effect … that provided the momentum and grants necessary for the development of our initiatives."

 

THE ROLE OF COMMUNITY

 

When asked about his role in the process, Superintendent Edwards is much less forthcoming and more complementary of others throughout the district. "Our programs arose out of collaborations between a number of individuals with ideas and drive. It is the role of administration to facilitate the success of those ideas," a role for which those with him at the ceremony give Edwards significant credit. It has been the atmosphere that Edwards and other administrators have created that has allowed such a comprehensive student wellness program to develop. Teachers, staff, and community members feel free to approach the district with new ideas, knowing that those ideas are valued even if they can´t necessarily be implemented.

 

OBSTACLES

 

One of the greatest challenges that Edwards and the Wayne Highlands School District has faced in its efforts to develop and promote student and community health initiatives has been the sheer size of the district. Edwards emphasized that "geographically we are the second largest rural district in Pennsylvania, covering nearly 450 square miles." Overcoming this obstacle to building a unified community involves the use of 90 buses and vans transporting its 3344 students over 1.26 million miles each year, or around 7,000 miles per day.

 

THE SUCCESSES

 

The size of the district has not stopped it from performing among the top districts in the region for academic performance though. "We were only one point behind the top district in 2005 SAT scores for our region," Edwards explained, smiling, "and we also were able to narrow the achievement gap between our economically disadvantaged and all other students," all despite the inherent challenges faced by other rural districts. Edwards credits much of the district's successes to the community itself. "It is through the people and organizations of our community coming together and striving toward what we could be that we succeed. Our community came together around our student wellness programs and other districts could come together around other initiatives," Edwards said. "The key for rural districts is to not allow the challenges to stop them. We can´t afford not to commit to these challenges."

 

SUPERINTENDENT EDWARDS' NARRATIVE

 

Introduction: Today, there are more than 12 million students in rural schools, representing 27% of the nation´s public school enrollment. Each day rural schools face great challenges including high poverty, limited resources, lack of sufficient funds to initiate reforms, sprawling distances, high stakes testing, and complex student physical and emotional health issues. The school system is the keystone of many rural communities frequently called upon to provide student services way beyond basic education. These realities create an environment where schools have to do more and more for students and their families. In short, doing "more with less" is a way of life for rural educators.

However, some innovative school districts, like ours, are able to make great progress by creating strong, sustained connections with broader community partners. This award nomination will focus on student emotional and physical wellness, and how the District along with our partnerships has fostered innovative change. Growing far beyond our original expectations, these collaborations spiraled into areas that were not anticipated creating the net result that there is a school culture where the District´s successes are shared by other community health and service organizations. In summary, in fulfilling our responsibilities for student wellness, we´ve linked with other providers and each organization has benefited from the partnership. A good place to begin is with some information about Wayne Highlands.

District Background: The Wayne Highlands School District, located in central and northern Wayne County, is geographically the second largest rural school district in Pennsylvania. The District is comprised of 434 square miles with its 90 buses and vans traveling 1.26 million miles each year (about 7,000 miles per day). The District borders New York State on the east along the Delaware River. This year´s enrollment is 3344.

Wayne Highlands has a superior academic reputation producing the second highest 2005 SAT scores as compared to 36 other Pa. districts in northeastern Pa. In fact, we were only one point behind the leader. Based on District PSSA test scores, in 2005 we were recognized by Standard and Poor´s as one of 61 Pa. districts (501 Pa. school districts) to significantly narrow the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged (36.4% of students) and all other district students. Wayne Highlands consistently scores above the state determined proficiency levels for No Child Left Behind, and in 2005 had two classes attain 100% proficiency. Wayne Highlands offers a dynamic extracurricular program that attracts almost 30% of middle and high school students. Concluding a decade of building construction and renovations, the District in 2004 opened a new Kindergarten _2nd Grade Primary School and a high school career center comprised of 12 new Art, Consumer and Family Science, and Tech Ed. Labs. Coinciding with the District´s aggressive improvement of facilities and instructional practices, was our expansion of student health services. Early on, our Nurses, Physical Education and Family and Consumer Science teachers expressed the need for a more comprehensive approach to student health. The vision from the beginning was to embrace our community health and service agencies as a way to expand our efforts and increase funding. Today, this approach is popularly known as student wellness. In short, we believe we are years ahead of the new federal and state initiatives, and our first project served as the "springboard" for what followed.

"Together for Health" – The Beginning The wellness collaborations that we believe are deserving your award are classic examples of the "ripple effect" of a good initial idea that is then leveraged by way of grant awards and community partners to provide the amplification needed to increase program services. This extends the range of programs to greater numbers of students and families. These collaborations began in 1995 with the creation of the award winning Together for Health Program (TFH).

The Wayne Memorial Hospital joined with Wayne Highlands and three other districts, local and county level social services agencies, private health care practices, local business, state agencies and Penn State to offer this unique program. Together for Health was designed to enable participating students in the seventh and eleventh grades to assess their own health needs through a Personal Wellness Profile. A clinical Lab Assessment was also made available for those students who chose to have one. The project was organized as a resource intended to enable students to take responsibility for their lives and their lifestyles, and to help them in making informed decisions. The data gathered enabled school districts to revise curriculum and expand health and wellness services. The data was particularly critical to the grant application process in creating needs assessments. Last year, Dr. Bradley Collins, Ph.D., Assistant Professor for Public Health and Director of the Health Behavior Research Clinic at Temple University said that this program had more quality health information on youth than any source he was aware of in the entire country. As a result, we believe that it is this information that served as the "stone cast in the water" thereby creating the ripple effect for additional programs and services. To date, over 10,000 (25% Wayne Highlands) students have attended these programs with 85% participating in the survey.

While the number of students served, and the database is very impressive, the number of community partners associated with the program is significant as well. At present, more than 100 volunteers from over 20 community organizations are committed to providing services through the program. These organizations have a direct contact with students at a day-long Health fair when students receive their lab results and have the opportunity to interact with individual community organizations. The Director of the County´s Victims Intervention Program reports that before 1995 she had less that 10 student age contacts each year. Following a presentation to students several years ago on the topic of "date rape", the number of contacts shot up to over 800 in three years. If the data was the catalyst, then, the partnerships formed at the health fair provided the "pond" upon which the programs would transverse. In the past ten years, 35% of the students have participated in the lab assessment and there have been a number of significant findings as a result of the blood test. Risk factors such as elevated blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, poor nutrition habits, alcohol, tobacco and substance abuse, poor dental hygiene, and disclosures of domestic violence and, as mentioned above, sexual abuse have all created paths for school and health care interventions.

The Together for Health Program has received three prestigious awards. In 1997 it received the Innovative Rural Health Program of the Year Award presented by the Pa. Office of Rural Health and the Area Health Education Center. Also that year, it received an Honorable Mention award in the Health category for Pocono Northeast Development Fund Community Award. In 1999 it received the Achievement Award from the Hospital and Health System Association of Pa. for the Outstanding Outreach/Partnership of the Year. In summary, this program was the genesis for identifying a number of significant wellness needs for our District. We began addressing these needs with a wide variety of initiatives. In the interest of being brief, the following are brief descriptions of our efforts.

Wayne County Family Center – In 1996, the three county school districts joined with county agencies and were successful in receiving funding from the Pa. Health Department to create a family center. The mission of the family center was to provide center-based and in-home education for new parents. Centers were opened in vacated classrooms in three districts, and here state-trained "parent educators" facilitated playgroups for children. In this setting, the parent educators could teach parents, and then demonstrate a wide variety of parenting skills. In-home visits were also scheduled as part of the program as a means for providing more direct contact with parents and their children. Once again, the "ripple effect" produced some interesting outcomes. The Family Center sponsors a summer "Stand Up for Children" fair. Additionally, they also have created a "furniture pantry" and a crib program called "Cribs for Kyle". During the month of February, there were 203 families in the county receiving services, 52 of them in our District. Also, 19 families received furniture and received a crib. The current year´s funding is $137,000 which employs a part-time executive director and four parent educators. One final example of collaboration is indicated by the Board membership. A County Commissioner, three school superintendents, one school psychologist, three parents, two school nurses, one elementary school principal, one child abuse clinic director, the director of Children and Youth Services in the County, the Head Start Director . . . .a true cross section of community services.

Communities That Care – The Honesdale Communities That Care (CTC) initiative was spearheaded in 1996 by a group of the local ministerium who assembled after a murder by a local juvenile. A task force was expanded to include District Administrators and community leaders who met monthly to address the community´s youth risks and needs. It was the consensus of the committee at that time to focus its efforts on preventive strategies that encourage health behavior and productive interaction among youngsters and all members of our community. In 1997, the Honesdale Communities That Care then conducted a District Student Survey to assess the prevalence of risk and protective factors for substance abuse and other antisocial behavior in adolescent populations. The survey was sponsored by Shippensburg University and the Pennsylvania Crime Commission on Delinquency.

From that survey, the CTC solicited funding from the local community to address the early initiation of juvenile problem behavior and favorable parental attitude toward this behavior. From this early initiative, an after school program was established at our Lakeside Elementary School for students in grades 2 – 6. This program is funded by community contributions and competitive grants ($53,532.00 this year) along with participant fees on a sliding scale. Students are guided in enrichment, academic and physical activities from the end of the school day until 5:00 p.m. Volunteers from the community along with a CTC director and two paid staff members guide students throughout the afternoon. Currently there are 56 children enrolled in this program with seven volunteers.

"Teens No Tobacco" (TNT) - Established in 1997, our High School formed this club to address the use of tobacco, once again, indicated as a problem from the Profile. The Club´s main purpose was to create an awareness in both the High School and in the lower grades about the dangers of smoking. The Club has grown and actually fostered two similar clubs in two neighboring school district high schools. This year there are forty students participating in a number of effective programs. They sponsor the High School´s recognition of the national "Great American Smokeout" campaign. They present programs in Kindergarten, third and fourth grades. They joined the above- mentioned high schools to sponsor a fund-raising dance with a no smoking theme. They also attend state rallies in the region and in Harrisburg to lobby for stronger legislation related to smoking. Other activities of TNT include:

  • Participated (past four years) in American Caner Society´s "Youth Tobacco Free Leadership Institute Conference". Students learned skills needed to become advocates, peer educators and community activists for key tobacco control issues in their community. Then created a project which is displayed in Steamtown Mall in Scranton.

  • Took part in TAFTY (Take Action for Tobacco Free Youth). This is a county-wide coalition that meets monthly and works within the community to make an awareness about the dangers of tobacco.

  • Attended BUSTED Rally (past two years) in Harrisburg, Pa. This is Pennsylvania´s official youth anti-tobacco movement. Our mission is to band together to eliminate manipulation by Big Tobacco. Students from Honesdale High School have also traveled to Pittsburgh and the state of Washington for BUSTED conferences.

  • Held an 8-week asthma education program for elementary students entitled, "Open Airways for Schools" created by the American Lung Association.

  • Assisted with Compliance Checks with the Honesdale Police Force. Students, under the age of 18 years, obtained special training and attempted to purchase cigarettes from local vendors.

  • Created book covers for students with an anti-tobacco message. This was done in response to the book covers produced by tobacco companies encouraging smoking among youths.

"Together for Health Dental Clinic" – In February 1999, a new dental clinic opened following two years of planning between the same partners that formed the original TFH program. The county´s Public Assistance Office, Head Start, and representatives of the local dental community joined in the formative stages. The project was created to address the problem of lack of dental care for MA recipients, especially children. The Hospital and Districts in 1998 were awarded a Pa. Primary Care Challenge Grant to begin operation. To assist with the expansion of services throughout the county, the Wayne Highlands School District donated an obsolete, but completely serviceable, Title I Winnebago Van. Since opening, the Clinic has seen an average of 200-250 patients per month. Additionally, school presentations and curriculum materials expanded the awareness of dental hygiene and personal responsibility. The Dental Clinic in 2001 received the 1st Place Award in the Health Care Category from the Pocono Northeast Development Fund Community Award.

Winter Walking Program - In partnership with the Wayne Memorial Hospital, the District opens three of its schools during the winter months for citizens to walk in a warm, clean and safe environment. Started in 2001, walkers use the schools from Monday through Thursday, from 6:00 – 8:00 P.M. This year 310 people participated, a growth of 38% from the previous year. This program has had a significant impact on the perception that the public has about our schools and programs. One walker remarked that they are amazed at the quality of the student work displayed in the schools.

Environmental Nutrition Grant – Wayne Highlands was one of fifteen districts to be selected to receive a $6000 mini grant from Project Pa. The purpose of the grant is to enhance the nutritional environment in their schools. Our Food Service Department and Family & Consumer Science classes work with students to encourage healthful food choices, particularly the selection and offering of more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Penn State trained our staff in April 2005. Two activities are of particular note. Very popular with our grandparents is the Generation Celebration held quarterly at our Middle School. Grandparents attend Family & Consumer Science classes with their grandchildren where some very creative activities are planned to share their life experiences with class members. During the High School´s Spirit Games this year, this grant funded an "Iron Chef" competition to showcase student cooking. The District´s Food Service and Family & Consumer Science Departments were recognized in 2002 as one of the top 5 School Nutrition Teams in Pa. (See enclosed materials)

"Fit for Life" – In October 2003, our District was awarded the highly competitive Carol M. Wright Physical Education Progress Grant in the amount of $240,674. The Wellness Survey indicated a critical problem with obesity and physical inactivity. The purpose of the grant was to focus on this problem by transitioning our traditional phys. ed. curriculum, which was based on competitive sports, to one with a curriculum aligned with the current state and national standards. The funds purchased fitness equipment and all six district schools developed fitness "rooms" adjacent to our gyms. We also acquired outdoor, life-sports equipment such as snowshoes, cross-country skis, bicycles, and canoes. This innovative practice teaches students to use their environment to remain "fit for life". To further expand our offerings to include team building, five challenge ROPES courses were constructed at four district schools. The fitness rooms are open five days a week, and after school until 5:30 P.M. They are open during vacations. One of the unique components is the integration of technology in measuring student baseline fitness and then recording progress. After school hours, the fitness rooms are open to parents and staff.

The Wayne Co. Drug and Alcohol Commission Rural Communities Initiative –A three-year federal grant in the amount of $245,991 was awarded in order to address the problem of underage drinking. The District has a 15-year relationship with the Wayne Co. D & A and is a task force partner. The agency will assist in determining what is most effective in targeting and preventing this problem. The task force will engage in strategic planning efforts in order to better focus school policy and disciplinary practices along with law enforcement tactics and prosecution. Pennsylvania was one of four states selected, and we were one of three communities selected in the state. The District Assistant Superintendent is our representative. One example of the District´s commitment to this program was the unfortunate example made of a classified District employee who was prosecuted and convicted for providing alcohol to teenagers at her home. The Board of Education discharged her.

21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant (21st CCLC) – The most recent accomplishment of the District is $1.1 million 21st CCLC grant. The grant was awarded to Wayne Highlands in collaboration with the broader community including the Wayne Memorial Hospital, Wayne County Family Center, Communities That Care, Wayne/Pike Adult Literacy and the Wayne Highlands Parent-Teacher Association to serve the children and parents of the District. The innovative practice features the schools as community centers where children and parents learn together. Each center will provide students with researched based education programs, highly qualified teachers, technology training, character education through service learning, adventure curriculum and nutrition education. Adults will have fitness centers for adult exercise, nutrition counseling, literacy, parenting skills and computer training. The Carole M. Wright Grant in 2003 established fitness centers and nutrition counseling at each school site for students and adults in the community. By linking the 21st century centers with the fitness centers, the District can improve student achievement, serve district families and educate the adult population in reading, technology, fitness and nutrition at each corner of this vast rural district. A sense of community will be at the heart of 21st century centers since children and adults will undertake service-learning projects in their own communities. In essence, the program brings education, training, fitness, health and nutrition to children and adults over 435 square miles of rural landscape. The ripple on the pond continues to grow wider.

Conclusion: As stated earlier, we believe that our District and our community partners recognized a decade ago that our students and their families were at a crossroads in terms of their health services. Our road to success was carved from the bedrock of what is so vital for rural communities, namely, the ability of people and organizations to work together for the common good. Our innovative practices grew for the spirit of rural America focusing on what "could be" rather than on roadblocks and potholes born of the typical challenges facing communities like ours. The ten programs that collectively form the basis for this nomination have received $3.23 million in funding, erasing the notion that schools can´t afford such "extras". On the contrary, the Wayne Highlands School community believes we can´t afford not to commit to these challenges. "Doing more with less" will never stand in our way, and literally thousands of students and families have and will benefit from our dedication to student and family well-being.

Titusville Area Schools

Early Childhood Learning Cent

 

Background

 

award_2006_Titusville - person accepting awardThe Titusville Area School district is located in Northwestern Pennsylvania. It encompasses 201 square miles and includes an early childhood center, four elementary schools, a middle school and a high school all within a rural setting. As its economic base has eroded the district has begun facing many new challenges. Many of its children entering into the school system come from economically deprived homes. Therefore, it is imperative that children have the best start to their educational journey as possible.

THE DISTRICT'S NARRATIVE

 

All the children in Titusville Area Schools begin their education at the Early Childhood Learning Center. This school houses all the district´s pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students. The school focuses its efforts on providing quality education for all students arid building upon their potential as life long learners. "At the Early Childhood Learning Center we believe that the early school years should be an enjoyable entry into the world of learning." In today´s society that often times is more challenging than it appears. As children enter into its school at the age of four, more often than not they have come with troubles far beyond their young years. Several years ago we began to focus on what we were doing to instill this enjoyable entry into the world of learning as its philosophy suggests. We knew that in order to achieve this we couldn´t do it alone.

 

THE INITIATIVE

 

We have always believed that together we achieve more; therefore, we set out to identify agencies that also had a vested interest in the children we were serving. We not only looked at the children but the families that need to support that positive entry into the learning world. Thus, we began to develop a team approach to educating children and supporting families. Some things we had in place - some we did not. The Titusville Area School district has focused on early childhood education since 1982 with the inception of a district funded public school pre-kindergarten. In 1991, the district built the Early Childhood Learning Center (ECLC) which was designed for educating four and five year olds. Beginning with the 2004-2005 school year, the district made an even greater commitment to early childhood education. Using Accountability Grant funding, the half day kindergarten offering was extended to a full day program.

Although the same curriculum is taught, teachers have more time to incorporate activities, and the program has been enhanced by the addition of the Action Based Learning Lab program in Physical Education, which is offered on a daily basis. Learning in pre-kindergarten and full day kindergarten is tied to kinesthetic motion. As a district we have been fortunate enough to have day care services since 1977. The Titusville Area bay Care program, approved and licensed by the state of Pennsylvania, provides preschool and before/after school programs that complement classroom curricula for children ages three through twelve.

In 2004-2005, the program expanded to meet the growing needs of parents through the addition of a new Toddler Room, which provides services for children beginning at 13 months of age. This not only provides a service to the families but by being located in the Early Childhood Learning Center it affords children an extended day of learning opportunities. Benefits of its collaboration include extended hours for working parents, nutritious meals and snacks, team planning with district teachers, and reinforcement and extension of curriculum and family support.

 

THE OUTCOMES

 

This collaboration has been a positive experience for all involved. The ECLC has always had a good working relationship with the local Head Start program. Over the years we have worked closely with them but in 2000 we had the opportunity to move the Head Start program into its facility. What a winning combination and smooth transition for incoming Head Start children and families! Many of the Head Start families had apprehensions about public school, however with the program being within the confines of the public school it only helped to strengthen the relationship between parents and the school district. As we looked at better meeting the needs of these at-risk children, we instituted a new program in 2001. This program is called Head Start Connection Kids. This program is affiliated with Head Start as well as the school district. Children in this program are dually enrolled. Connection Kids is a program for selected children presently attending the K-4 program at the ECLC who meet income guidelines, most of whom were enrolled in Head Start the previous year.

The Connection Kids program offers an extended day to these children to reinforce the K-4 skills and curriculum. When this program first originated in 2001 we serviced nine children. Today we serve 18 children with more on a waiting list. The collaboration between Head Start and the school district has proved to be a win-win situation. Components of the collaboration include team planning, shared conferences with parents, involvement with teaching specialists and parents to create IEPs, transportation that is provided by the school district, and a family service worker Just to name a few of the benefits. In an effort to not only work with the children of its district but also the parents, we began another collaborative effort with the Crawford County READ Family Literacy Program.

In 2000, we began to work with Family Literacy to target families within its school and district to provide literacy opportunities for the parents so they might better support the education of their children. The Family Literacy Program is offered by the Crawford County READ program in collaboration with the ECLC, Benson Memorial Library and the Genesis Family Center. It is designed for parents with children under eight years old who have set a goal of getting their GED or who want to improve their basic skills. Benefits of this collaboration include adult education, early childhood education for the children, parenting education opportunities and Parent and Child Together Time (PACT). This program requires that parents and children spend quality time together, whether it is in the classroom setting or Family Literacy setting.

Family support is also an important aspect of the success of this program. The Family Literacy program has served as a wonderful liaison between the public school, Head Start and day care programs as well as other outside agencies. We, as a school, have seen great benefits occur because of these unique partnerships. Parents are becoming more involved in the education of their children. The team environment has proven to be supportive for parents, children and teachers. Mentoring and professional development opportunities have enabled all parties to gain new knowledge and also develop a greater understanding of how each entity provides needed services to children and their families.

The programs that are offered at the ECLC are both child-centered as well as supportive of today´s families. We have seen these benefits as children transition from one program to another. The transition has become smooth and effortless. Probably the greatest benefit of these collaborations is the growth and success we have seen for the children. They are blossoming from the nurturing, supportive and caring environment that surrounds them. As we continued to look at ways the school can become the focus of the community for its families, another opportunity became available.

During this past summer its local WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program was faced with the challenge of maintaining a local office with no funding available. Its school had the space to provide a site so that the children and families of its community could stay in the area to receive the wonderful services this program provides. This provided yet another golden opportunity for the school district. Parents enter the same building that will be the future school for their children and become familiar with its friendly and supportive environment. In addition, the children are receiving the nutritional benefits of the WIC program which in turn creates healthier children who are nourished so they are able learn.

The community and their involvement is such an important aspect of the school´s success! Through partnerships with other agencies we have been able to witness the benefits that collaboration brings. We will continue to look for positive partnerships that will meet the needs of its children and their families. We know that collaboration works!

Cambria Heights School District

The Highlander Foundation

 

BACKGROUND

 

award_2006_Cambria - Larry Wess shaking Kai Schafft's handThe Cambria Heights School District is located in rural, northern Cambria County and spans an area of approximately 101 square miles with a population of 10,839 citizens or 107.3 people per square mile. This district is a jointure of four boroughs and five townships. Industry within the district is primarily small businesses. These small businesses and the school district, combine with the commute-to-employment possibilities found in Ebensburg, Altoona, Johnstown and Indiana. The county data for unemployment is 7.1% compared to 4.9% for the state, and the county percentage for citizens with four-year degrees is 13.7% (2000 census and BLS 2005). Cambria County has 222 people per square mile and has experienced a 7.1% decrease in population since 1990. The demographic profile and the socioeconomic potential are common throughout most districts in Cambria County The Cambria Heights School District has a current student population of 1486, which is an 18% decrease since 1998. State enrollment projections report another 8.8% decline to occur to student population by 2014. The student intention for post –secondary educational training, for both two & four year programs, is near 70% and the reported free & reduced lunch qualification is near 40%.

 

THE BEGINNINGS

 

These local and district statistics indicate a need for creative and positive efforts to provide the means-to-opportunity for students since the area lacks the socioeconomic inertia to facilitate lofty goals. The Highlander Foundation is a new organization formed in the spring of 2005 encompassing the geographic area of the Cambria Heights School District. This new foundation represents the district and all of its political subdivisions. The mission of the Highlander Foundation is to support and elevate the students of the Cambria Heights School District in their pursuits of post-secondary education, leadership activities and a positive school spirit. The Highlander is the mascot of the Cambria Heights School District and represents the bold, proud spirit of the school and like the foundation, supports and protects the community and the future of its youth.

 

THE INITIATIVE

The Highlander Foundation, incorporated with the endorsement of the Cambria Heights Board of School Directors, is an assemblage of proud alumni and dedicated citizens with the purpose of helping students to a brighter future and resultantly helping the local community. Cambria Heights School District provides clerical, marketing and publishing services to the Highlander Foundation. The initial and consistent financial support of the teachers and staff through a payroll deduction plan has started the economic engine of the Highlander Foundation. An annual golf tournament, a planned alumni dinner-dance and donations by local businesses are funding current efforts. An endowment to sustain the educational purpose of the Highlander Foundation is planned. The Highlander Foundation has a theme that the leaders verbalize frequently. Even though the theme, "Circle of Caring," does not appear in the formal mission, it is an often-mentioned purpose that the leaders use in maintaining their focus of providing opportunity for students.

That same "Circle of Caring" can them become a model for students to embrace or continue service toward school and the community, no matter where they go in the world. The educational purpose of the foundation is to foster three goals:

  1. Scholarship- to provide assistance to reach for and achieve educational goals

  2. Support to the School to provide the means for teachers to provide educational opportunities or activities that may not have been financially possible

  3. Leadership – to provide the means for students to participate in worthy conferences or competitions that may not have been financially possible

The Highlander Foundation has awarded its first mini-grant to teachers. This level of support is called an Enterprise Grant. This initial support was directed at a wide-scale program to impact as many students as possible. A suggestion by the middle school principal resulted in the Highlander Foundation providing $1000 to provide two presentations by William Sanders, contributing author of Chicken Soup for the Soul for Teenagers. Students from grades 4 through 12 will be the first students benefiting from an Enterprise Grant. Two scholarships valued at $1000 each, will be presented to graduating seniors in May. Academic Achievement and financial need will be the criteria with one scholarship going to a student accepted to a four-year institution, and one scholarship going to a student accepted to two-year, post-secondary training.

The Highlander Foundation chose to follow the PA Department of Education direction in their support of today´s graduates, acknowledging the academic and the vocational importance of workforce development. The Highland Foundation has recently contacted the class presidents for the graduating classes, as far back as the 60´s. These class presidents have been part of a planning system to develop an Alumni Dinner Dance to foster the community involvement and the school spirit. This Alumni group will also serve to extend the pool of supporting Highlanders beyond this immediate geographic area. The Cambria Heights School District like this entire area has experienced its share of economic hard times.

The Highlander Foundation is a seminal example of school community partnership. It is an example of citizens, after high school, giving back to the community. The $3000 provided in the first year of its existence is a humble and yet proud beginning to a valuable effort in an area where any financial support is highly regarded. The Highlander Foundation, working with the Cambria Heights School District, intends to continue to try to move the total burden from parents and local government through providing support for students that are deserving of a chance for social and economic success. This partnership of foundation and school district intends to build the momentum providing opportunities for years to come.